On the day right wing news channel Newsmax secured its own Freeview channel number, the Government has confirmed plans to bring online-only channels under Ofcom control.
- Culture Secretary has announced plans that will force streaming channels to abide by Ofcom rules.
- Streaming channels on platforms including Samsung TV Plus, Pluto TV and Amazon Freevee can currently circumvent rules on the watershed, language and violence.
- A growing number of streaming channels found on Freeview’s TV guide are also not currently regulated by Ofcom.
More online TV channels could be required to follow Ofcom content rules to ensure young and vulnerable audiences are protected from harmful programming, under plans announced by the Culture Secretary at the Royal Television Society Cambridge Convention this afternoon.
In a wide-ranging speech, Lucy Frazer set out her plan to maximise the potential of the TV industry to seize the opportunity presented by the infinite choice on offer in today’s media landscape, and to ensure fair competition amid an increasingly fierce global battle for viewers.
Figures show that more than seven in ten UK households now have a smart TV, through which audiences can access up to 900 unregulated and mostly internet-based TV channels via platforms such as Pluto TV, Samsung TV Plus, LG Channels and Amazon Freevee.
These channels are not currently required to meet the same standards expected of traditional broadcasters.
Ofcom can’t handle complaints about most streamed channels
While some channels follow rules on inappropriate or harmful material voluntarily set by the companies who run them, UK viewers cannot complain to Ofcom (offices pictured above) if they are concerned by a programme, and Ofcom has no powers to issue fines or other sanctions if a channel broadcasts harmful material.
As part of the Culture Secretary’s mission to modernise broadcasting rules for the digital age, a consultation has been launched on proposals to bring unregulated TV channels into scope of Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code, which is already followed by terrestrial and satellite channels.
During the summer, some streaming channels, also known as FAST channels, have become regulated by Ofcom. These include channels recently added by Virgin Media to its Electronic Programme Guide (EPG).
Freeview grey zone
While cable and satellite channels can escape Ofcom scrutiny if they are licenced in countries that have signed up to the European Convention on Transfrontier Television (ECTT), all terrestrially delivered channels require an Ofcom licence. But this currently doesn’t extend to the streaming services carried on Freeview. That’s despite Ofcom regulating the Freeview Electronic Programme Guide (EPG).
But this grey zone has allowed China’s CGTN to reappear, despite Ofcom revoking its broadcast licence. CGTN appears within the Vision TV portal on channel 264.
Newsmax launched today on channel 286. It has previously contained content on the US Presidential Elections, Covid-19 and climate change that would have been heavily scrutinised by Ofcom if it was broadcasting through the terrestrial airwaves.
Some streaming channels on Freeview carry an on-screen notice referring viewers to the Ofcom website while loading the channel.